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Preview: The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is like The Witcher made by Studio Ghibli

After some hands-on, we're impressed

by on June 15, 2016
 

The biggest queue on the show floor at E3 so far was (by quite a considerable margin, actually) the one to get inside Nintendo’s Zelda world of wonder; complete with big, sometimes moving, statues, lights set to a day and night cycle and, of course, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. The length of the line was certainly justified, too, as Breath of the Wild may just be the exact thing Zelda fans have spent their lives dreaming about. I’ve played it, and left with a smile on my face, wanting much more.

I spent about 30 odd minutes in the sprawling, colourful world, which was split into two pieces. Firstly, I was allowed to roam free in just a tiny, tiny part of the map, which is apparently 12 times the size of Twilight Princess. I was given free reign to explore to my hearts content and I duly obliged. I wandered about some luscious meadows, peaceful woods and solemn caves. I cut down trees for firewood, then used that firewood to cook up some food. I battered the bad guys. I sneaked into their camps and ended them from behind, I had full on brawls with four at one time and I even got a fright when one cheeky sod sneaking up on me. All of it was a genuine joy, even as someone who has no great affinity to Zelda games, and it has left me very eager to see what else there is to see in this world.

What’s clear is that Nintendo isn’t just plonking Link down in a dull open world and having that be that. No doubt people would love it even if that’s all they did, but instead a lot of thought and effort has gone into making this a proper RPG. There are no longer hearts in the world you can collect to replenish your health, you have to eat to do so. Eating food raw will do the job, but if you want the full effect then the food has to be cooked over a fire. There appears to be a fair bit to the crafting system and you have to dress Link appropriately for the conditions he’s in. If his clothes are thin and it’s freezing, you have to wrap him up or things will go bad quick. It is nice to know that Nintendo are thinking about these mechanics and systems and aren’t just making an open world Zelda for the sake of it.

Something else that fed into this was the range of weapons I could use to clobber fools. No longer are you restricted to just sword and shield. In my short time I used a club, a branch, an axe, and a sword. All of them felt distinct as they had their own weight to them, and it was nice to mix up the, at this stage at least, very simple combat.

What really struck me the most from Breath of the Wild, and this may be a small thing to pick up on but I don’t care, is how it seemed as if the enemies I fought actually had their own lives, and weren’t just mindless creatures whose only purpose is to die by my blade. There was one moment in which I had a vantage point atop of a hill, and below was two of these big, red fellas (the actual name escapes me) just chilling out by the fire cooking some steak. One of them didn’t even have his club in his hands, it was laid a few feet away from him as he cooked his tea. The other one had his bow on his back. I loved how the enemies weren’t in battle mode from the very start, they had their own life and reason for existence. It made the world feel really alive and that everything had a reason to be where it was. Which makes it even more tragic when I sneaked down the hill and slaughtered them without reason. It was quite dark. I wonder how Nintendo will feel about seeing players play freely as Link which may well lead to players doing some nasty things that Link would never do. It might be a strange one for them, but I do hope it gives freedom to the players to do whatever they wish.

If you’ve seen any footage then you already know this but it’s well worth repeating that Breath of the Wild looks genuinely amazing. I was told that the art style the developers are going for is that of a “soft painting” and for it to look like “art”, which has been well and truly achieved already. It’s colourful but in a kind of understated way in which nothing really stands out, it just all blends together beautifully. All the hidden caves, the soaring towers, and every nook and cranny all felt as if they belonged in the world, and had been there for eons. Anything that had recently appeared purposefully looked different, and therefore intriguing to go and explore.

The other section of my demo was basically the start of the game, which gave some context to the story. Link has awoken after a 100-year slumber and it seems as if things have gone wrong in Hyrule, leading to destruction of some kind. An old geezer suddenly appears and tells you all this, and points out a grand yet decrepit Abbey, that has been abandoned for a century, to make his point hit home. Then a smoke dragon of sorts escapes from a castle and the big bad of the game is revealed. The premise to Breath of the Wild is that it’s basically another post-apocalyptic, open world game, but with the obvious Zelda twist. I am hoping there is a bit more civilisation knocking about, especially as I feel like side quests could be a bit limited if there isn’t more people to talk too, but this is going to be a massive game and there is lots of stuff yet to be revealed to us.

Breath of the Wild is basically The Witcher 3 made by Studio Ghibli, and there really can’t be much higher praise from me than that. My demo flew by and it left me wanting more – the world is a lovely place to be in, it’s brimming with character and, most importantly, nothing feels like its been done for the sake of it. From the mechanics to the game to creatures living in the world, everything here seems to have a meaningful purpose.